Ark Ascent - Downfall - (9/10)
Published on October 14, 2019
Ark Ascent is quite a mixture of musicians featuring Andrea Arcangeli (DGM) on bass, Rogue Marechal (ex-Shadowkeep) on vocals and Michael Brush (Sirenia) on drums. But it is primarily the project of guitarist and composer Jack Kirby, who also recorded the drums and keyboards on the newly released debut album, “Downfall”. The sound of this album is mainly progressive power metal but there’s also a subtle classic hard rock tendency. To my surprise, the progressive component is very prominent all through the record, being fairly noticeable even on the most typical power metal bangers. Plus, unlike most power metal albums, this one feels mature and very believable as opposed to ridiculously cheesy and over the top, even though it can get properly flamboyant in terms of melody and orchestration.
This album is simply very well put together. They did a very good job at balancing the different traits of their music and maintaining the songs interesting from the beginning to the end of the album without any low points. It is solid material all the way through. The composition varies from more straightforward power metal songs (“Downfall”) to properly progressive, intricate displays of virtuosity such as “The Aftermath” and the 13 minute epic album closer “The End of Time”. I guess what was most obvious for me as I listened to this album for the first time was the undeniable Symphony X influence. Many riffs and especially the guitar and keyboard solos and duels gave me a massive throwback to the early Symphony X material (everything up until “The Odyssey”). But although it is strongly reminiscent of Symphony X, it is not in any way a rip-off as the imagery, atmosphere and production of the album deliver an entirely different and unique feeling. Unlike most power metal, this album is really dark, the lyrical concept basically describing the destruction of humankind. As a result of this choice of theme, the album is somewhat theatrical and properly epic at times.
Kirby’s guitar is definitely the star on most of the songs, partly because of the very full and satisfying production sound that brings it forward a lot and gives it attack as well as depth, but mainly because of just how well the guitar parts are written and performed. The riffs are always groovy, heavy and engaging but never come without a touch of intricacy and convey a high level of musicianship, making the record impressive both on an enjoyable and an intellectual level. The keyboards also stand-out, enhancing on the album’s cinematic fragrance with rich and full soundscapes. “Point of No Return” and “The End of Time” have some really juicy orchestration. But there’s also a touch of power metal electronic effect (see “Sanctuary”) and even some “Divine Wings of Tragedy” throwback sounds, particularly on “The Aftermath”. The solo section in that song is absolutely ripping and the progressive time shifts incorporated in there are definitely some of the album’s highlights. I also need to give a huge shout-out to the bass playing as it is not only very prominent throughout the entire record but also really sick in grooves, moods and unexpected surprise moments where it just leaps forward. Andrea has a very flashy and outgoing playing style that really adds to the music’s energy and dynamic. And the drums always have that good inviting feel that gets you headbanging and connecting to the pace of the song. Overall, the instruments complement each other really well and put together a very cohesive and pleasant sound, heavy but also melodic, catchy as well as intricate.
Rogue also brings a lot to the table. His performance is quite emotional, full of energy and varies from song to song. For example “Innocence Lost” shows his most emotional delivery, with some really nice vibratos and a very warm tone overall, while the likes of “The Darkest Hour” and “Downfall” see him pulling off his gritty and aggressive side. He’s got an impressive range and a lot of volume, plus he really knows how to follow the song and make his vocals fit into the orchestration. He also recorded layers upon layers of backing vocals that add up a lot to the “wall of sound” effect that the album has. The piano interludes offered by Katia Filipovic and the use of clean guitar with less layered overall sound through the mini-tracks “Farewell”, “Ascension” and “Closer to Heaven” make for a very welcome change of pace. And that gives the album a sense of peaks and valleys that prevents it from getting stale or repetitive.
Looking at it from many different angles there really isn’t much to complain about. There’s melody and groove, lots of energy and a good deal of emotion. It’s very creative and inspires. The vocals are spot on and the production has to be some of the best I’ve heard on a power metal record. “Downfall” is as strong as a progressive power metal debut will get and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If power metal is your thing then pretty much any track on this album should hook you straight away but if you’re more of a prog enthusiast (a.k.a. me) then you’ll really get into the first two and last two songs! Either way, Ark Ascent is definitely worth a shot!